Afghan opposition agrees ceasefire if Taliban does
By Tahir Ikram
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, May 2 (Reuters) - The Afghan opposition alliance said on Wednesday it would accept a United Nations appeal for a ceasefire to prevent a humanitarian disaster if the ruling Taliban also agreed.
The chief of the U.N. refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers, had carried his appeal for a ceasefire lasting six months to a year to Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the anti-Taliban alliance fighting for its existence in northeastern Afghanistan.
"We believe that -- not only for six months -- that the war should be over forever," Rabbani told reporters after the men met in the alliance's current capital Faizabad.
"Yes, we are in agreement but we want that the Taliban should also agree," said Rabbani, still recognised as Afghan president by most of the world including the United Nations despite being driven from the capital Kabul by the Taliban five years ago.
Rabbani said he agreed with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Lubbers that peace was necessary for the welfare of the Afghan people, suffering the twin calamities of two decades of war and the worst drought in 30 years.
Lubbers had expected to also meet Ahmad Shah Masood, commander of the anti-Taliban forces. But Masood, who had been directing fighting with the Taliban last week to the west of Faizabad, did not appear.
Lubbers had carried the same plea for a ceasefire to the ruling Taliban in Kandahar a day earlier but did not get a clear reply. He was due to meet Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil in Kabul later on Wednesday or on Thursday morning.
However, Lubbers, the former prime minister of the Netherlands, has been pessimistic about the possibility of peace in the immediate future as heavy seasonal fighting between the Taliban and its foes has already broken out.
Lubbers is visiting Afghanistan for four days to assess the plight of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who left their homes and villages after drought compounded the problems of 20 years of war.
U.N. officials warn that food shortages and the problem of displaced people in opposition-held areas are as bad as in the Taliban-ruled parts. An estimated 100,000 people are displaced in the northeastern Afghanistan areas held by the opposition.
Lubbers was making only a brief visit to Faizabad, capital of rugged Badakhshan province, which became the opposition capital after the fall of Taloqan 110 km (70 miles) to the west last September.
Following a stop at a refugee camp Lubbers planned to leave the Tajik town, encircled by mountains that force planes into a sharp turn to land on the Soviet-era runway, and return to Kabul in the afternoon.
After meeting Muttawakil in Kabul, Lubbers is to continue to Pakistan on Thursday. A scheduled meeting between the men in Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, failed to take place on Tuesday.
Rabbani said the opposition was ready to consider any option for peace but emphasised they would fight to prevent any Taliban advance. The Taliban movement claims control over more than 90 percent of Afghanistan.
Rabbani denied getting any outside assistance beyond humanitarian needs and called for a halt to foreign aid to the Taliban. The Taliban accuse Russia of backing the opposition, while Pakistan denies charges it is arming the Taliban.
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